Proposed nsw Private Land conservation package not up to the job
Compounding serious concerns with the proposed changes to land management legislation in NSW, which have been expressed repeatedly by the Stand Up For Nature alliance of environment groups, Humane Society International (HSI) today questioned whether the Government’s light on detail announcement of $240 million in funding for private land conservation is little more than a red herring. HSI has extensive experience and involvement in private land conservation through our long-running Wildlife Land Trust (WLT) program, which also has a Memorandum of Understanding with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage to facilitate the establishment of Voluntary Conservation Agreements throughout the state.
A package of $240 million over 5 years was announced by NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman along with the broader biodiversity legislation reform package, and has been a key selling point for the Government throughout their campaign to pass the Biodiversity Conservation Bill and Local Land Services Amendment Bill. However, blatant mistruths in Government materials and an absence of any proper detail into how this money will be allocated and sustained are cause for great concern.
“Government fact sheets declare that this is the first time NSW landholders will be paid to manage their properties for conservation purposes. That statement is completely false. In fact, the announced funding is barely more than what was provided to landholders for conservation management when the soon to be repealed Native Vegetation Act came into effect. The only problem then was that successive Governments failed to maintain the successful program, and there’s no guarantee that history won’t repeat itself – the only difference this time around is that we’ll be left without adequate laws protecting against massive ongoing habitat loss,” said HSI Senior Program Manager Evan Quartermain.
Under the new package many property owners who have already committed to permanently managing their land for conservation purposes will be left out of receiving financial management assistance if they fall outside yet to be determined ‘Priority Investment Areas’ – a situation that encourages previously unallowed conversion to proposed Biodiversity Stewardship Agreements. These agreements can then generate biodiversity credits used to “offset” development elsewhere, seriously undermining the intent of the agreements entered into with the understanding that they were to bind all future landowners in-perpetuity.
Adding insult to injury, there has been no consultation with those most affected by the proposed changes –more than 3,000 current holders of a range of agreements which combined cover in excess of 3,000,000 hectares of land managed for conservation purposes. Around one in three of the 170 WLT member sanctuaries in NSW are protected through permanent conservation agreements, with “This isn’t what I signed up for” being the resounding response from all of those approached by HSI on the changes.
Mr Quartermain concluded, “The Government is being incredibly misleading when selling the private land conservation package as the solution to all the negatives of the Local Land Services Amendment Bill. We hear Minister Speakman citing an ever-growing threatened species list as an example of how the current system is failing – the problem with that line is that what he’s trying to replace it with is going to make things worse. We’re at serious risk of changes that are going to set biodiversity in NSW back decades, and the proposed private land conservation package is not up to the job of saving it.”